A young woman gingerly crawls off a motor scooter, grateful for the ride. Last month, Kalliyan Seng* could make the two-mile trek from her home on a bicycle. But now that she's nine months pregnant and ready to give birth at any minute, it's harder to pedal that distance.
The woman steadies herself then waddles in for a weekly pregnancy health class. She's greeted by community health workers and IMB missionary Nancy Potter.* Women in various stages of pregnancy or post-pregnancy surround the ensemble and begin to chat.
A "Ragtag Group" Spreading the Gospel
Nancy looks around the crowded room and smiles. If someone had told her a few years ago that churches in this part of Southeast Asia would start as a result of pregnant women learning to be healthy, she might have scoffed.
Most of these women don't even have a third-grade education. Their families live on less than $1 a day. Some are malnourished and sick. It's definitely a ragtag group.
Yet, God uses these women as catalysts for spreading His Word.
"I'm not sure if it started with the women because when you are pregnant, it's nine months of uncertainty or what," Nancy says. "But if you look at how most of the new village house churches started, it's through women. One came to faith and then started praying for everyone else. Other women then join her and they pray for their husbands."
As if to accentuate Nancy's point, Seng scoots across the floor to the missionary nurse from Oklahoma. The reason she came today was really to ask everyone to pray for her husband. She prays that she will deliver a healthy baby, and that this will lead her husband to ask questions about her newfound faith.
Reversing the Trend of Maternal Mortality
Like most attending the prenatal classes, Seng did not know anything about Jesus. The former Buddhist came to learn about giving birth and how to take care of her baby.
In this poor rural area, death is a common reality when giving birth. Some of the highest maternal mortality rates are here. Five women die every day during childbirth, according to a 2013 United Nations report.
Surviving childbirth isn't even an end to the fears for these young mothers. For every 1,000 births, around 50 children never see their first birthdays.
For years, Nancy and her husband, William,* held malnourished babies, wondering how long the children would survive. They cringed every time they heard of mothers squatting in an unsanitary home to give birth. Their hearts broke when these women died without hearing the gospel.
Washing Hands, Burping Babies and Discipleship
The Potters, who have medical backgrounds, created a simple curriculum to teach about healthy prenatal and post-pregnancy care. Now, they see around 250 healthy births a year.
The health classes use local Christians to teach everything from washing hands to burping babies. Each lesson ends with a biblical truth and prayer. This approach combines aspects of a discipleship and church-planting program called Training for Trainers (T4T) with human needs.
"The first time we tried this, I couldn't get anyone interested in going out with me," Nancy said. "All it took was one time for that first generation of believers to catch the vision. Now, we disciple and train the leaders and they go to the next village. They communicate at a deeper heart level. What we are seeing now is a real acceleration of the gospel."
Houses of Peace
Seng, like most of the new believers, came to faith after the health workers repeatedly visited her home the next day as a "follow up." When a "house of peace," or a family that is interested in learning Bible stories and letting others join them, is found, a small group is formed.
William says they like to slip mothers into two groups as soon as they can. One becomes the "human needs time" (pregnancy health class) and the other is a freestanding Bible study/discipleship group that hopefully turns into a church.
Sovaan and Maly Lim* opened their tiny home to a small group back when Maly was pregnant. Local Christians came each week to pray, sing praises to God and teach a Bible story. Maly came to Christ one year later, but Sovaan remained a drunkard and gambled away the family's money ... but he kept watching and listening.
Maly and the other women wanted to bring their husbands to Christ. So Nancy incorporated lessons on "how to be a godly wife." Then the women gathered every day, praying for their husbands to come to faith.
A Natural Presentation of the Gospel
"Even up to four months ago, I didn't think we'd ever have any men in our small groups," Nancy says. "But then, the husbands saw their wives' countenance change. They saw healthy babies where in the past there was only death ... and that provided a natural presentation of the gospel from their wives."
Then, one by one, the men came to Christ—including Sovaan.
"We are seeing baptisms almost every month now," William says. "Most (churches) started as a result of the pregnancy health classes and local believers going out and sharing the gospel."
Sovaan breaks out into a big toothy smile. Jesus is now his favorite topic of conversation. In fact, he and Maly just finished inviting everyone in the village to come to their house for church. At a T4T training, they were challenged to share with neighbors.
"I learned about the words and truths of God at the training," Sovaan says. "Now, it's our turn to take this lesson and teach to the people in our village ... then we will go share in the next village."
*All names in this story have been changed. Article courtesy of HomeLife magazine.